Sport forms the cornerstone of modern entertainment. Whether you’re a football fan, athletics enthusiast or simply wish to casually tune into the Summer / Winter Olympics, media outlets are dominated by news from within the sporting sphere.
Children are receptive to all of this information, and are inherently influenced by professional athletes that they see on the television from an extremely young age. Their behaviour, hairstyles, conversation points and dress sense is inadvertently being modelled on the superstars who inevitably become their role models.
What an athlete says, does, or in its most basic form, the capacity with which an athlete performs within their particular sporting discipline strongly impacts the precursor for a child, or their parents wish for their child to actively participate in a sport.
Many athletes are blissfully unaware of the power they hold to create a positive societal shift towards physical activity and sport participation. Equally, children fail to identify that athletes have grown up facing similar levels of adversity, and have had to tap into their own humanity and mental toughness to overcome challenges to become the most realised version of themselves.
Therefore, there is an opportunity for athletes to convey their similarities, to remind the future generation that they too can beat the odds to achieve greatness, and to bridge the gap so that children recognise that the steps towards becoming a professional athlete is not as distant as they preconceive it to be.
Within this blog, I’m going to share 5 life skills young people can learn from athletes.
Just like you and me, athletes are prone to facing turbulent upbringings that stem from familial problems, racial and gender inequality, bullying or financial poverty.
Adversity persists beyond childhood. Many athletes must overcome the harsh reality of being cast aside due to long-term injury, never knowing if they’ll be able to perform to the same level, or get the opportunity to do so for that matter.
How often do we retell the story of the classic underdog who sat by the sidelines awaiting their one shot to prove their worth. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, athletes have learned to bounce back from hardship more often than they could recount. Where others would shy away, athletes revel in proving their critics wrong.
The ability to overcome adversity is rarely a lesson that can be taught and more an attribute that is developed through your own experience and the teachings of others who have lived through difficulty and strife.
Not too many people are comfortable in the act of stepping outside their comfort zone in order to achieve a greater goal. Athletes are the rare breed who have and will continue to sit down and have this conversation with themselves. Sacrifice isn’t easy, but success demands it. The pendulum’s movement toward greater success is determined by the degree of your sacrifice. Not only do athletes embrace sacrifice, they thrive under circumstances of needing to give up everything to do their best at one thing.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a leading example of an individual who leaves no stone unturned. He’s in peak physical shape, both on and off the field in terms of his commitment to football and strict adherence to a nutritious dietary plan. His routine consists of active recovery measures. For all of this, he must sacrifice family time, miss out on festive holidays and the luxuries of leading a ‘normal’ life, having a social life or eating and drinking fast food.
Understanding sacrifice is an integral facet of creating new habits. Sacrifice is the sum of the actions that you take over a prolonged period of time. Sacrifice is the precursor for success.
Seeing life as all-or-nothing
The mind of an elite-level athlete leaves no room Plan B’s. Athletes are mentality monsters defined by their solitary goal of achieving the greatest accolades within sport.
They have honed their mental toughness and resilience to fend away intrusive thoughts that only serve to distract them from making forward strides.
Negativity is a no-no. Along their journey, they will face many forks in the road that range from people doubting their ability, to repeatedly failing or losing confidence, despite these setbacks, athletes have the tenacity to persevere along the main road until they reach the finish line, the ultimate reward for overcoming adversity and embracing sacrifice.
Seeing life as all-or-nothing, whilst often an extreme measure leaving no middle ground between success or failure, creates incentive to continue along a linear path towards one goal. It encourages one to have a sharp focus on completing a goal, and nothing but that goal.
Playing the game of life
What do children and athletes share in common other than their relentless energy? Playing games! Fundamentally, every sport boils down to completing challenges both individually and as part of a greater collective of people.
Much like playground games, athletes are rewarded for winning. Additional incentives include financial stability, filling the trophy cabinet and becoming the peak performer within your sporting discipline.
An athlete’s capacity to treat sport like a game creates an opportunity to inject playful creativity. This supports the development of an athlete’s proficiency to add spontaneity, complex skills and on-the-go problem solving into the mix. Gamification pushes you toward a limitless attitude that garners the confidence necessary to take bold risks that catapult your own game to the next level.
Playing the game of life inspires children to seek challenges with the appreciation that win or lose, participating in sport should be a fun, rewarding process.
A can-do work ethic
Athletes flip the script on the age-old business quote “work smart, not hard”. Running parallel is the common misconception that only the smartest children can achieve their goals. In reality, athletes work hard in training to perfect the physical and mental aspects within their sport. Working hard and smart run in tandem.
Work ethic can be defined by the measurable actions taken by an athlete to improve. For instance, many of the best athletes will be the first to turn up to training and the last to leave. They are extremely attentive to their coaches’ instructions and will proportion a large part of their day to extra curricular readings.
Mastery has been quantified as taking a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. To hit those numbers, an athlete must revel in the mundane repetition of basic skills, i.e. performing sprinting drills with the aim to knock milliseconds off their time.
A can-do work ethic is a highly important life skill. Children should not rely solely upon their god-given smarts. To excel in any dimension of life, humans must adapt to proactively build the grit to work, learn, fail and then work some more.
Integrating all of these life skills into your school’s educational coaching programme will put children in good stead to become the champions of tomorrow.
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